CHENNAI, Feb 28: Flying has become a painful experience for disabled people and senior citizens, aggrevated by the lack of infrastructure and an abundance of archaic laws.
While several airports including the Chennai airport don't have enough aerobridges, ambulifts and wheel chairs to shift such people into the aircraft and out of it, the Aircraft Rules, 1937 bans people with epilepsy or psychological disabilities from flying. It was under this rule that Jeeja Ghosh, 42, was forced out of the SpiceJet flight recently.
Passengers complain that airlines hide under these rules to justify preventing some elderly patients to travel. In the case of Ghosh, a cerebral palsy patient, the airlines didn't understand that her disorder is not listed under the rules.
The director general of civil aviation's civil aviation requirements Section 3 defines a disabled person as whose mobility when using transport is reduced due to any physical disability, intellectual disability or impairment, or any other cause of disability, or age. It suggests that airlines should provide all assistance to such passengers without additional charge. But civil aviation in India is largely governed by Aircraft Rules 1937.
S Namburajan, state secretary of TN Association of Rights of Disabled people and Care-givers, says pilots use Section 24A of the Aircraft Rules 1937 to evict disabled passengers. "No person shall knowingly carry or permit to be carried, or connive at the carriage of, a person suffering from any mental disorder or epilepsy in any aircraft,'' says the section.
Those with physical disabilities have other set of woes. Aerobridges or ambulifts are often not used to board or disembark passengers. And airlines are not willing to go the extra mile and request for an aerobridge or ambulift if they have disabled passengers on board because they will have to pay to use these facilities.
Airports at Chennai, Madurai, Trichy and Coimbatore do not have enough wheelchairs, aerobridges or ambulifts. If there are wheel chairs, passengers are forced to wait - inside the aircraft after arrival or at the terminal to board - till a ground handling staff brings the chair. "Disabled passengers are not allowed to use their own wheelchairs because of security reasons in spite of the fact that Disabilities Act says that aides used by a disabled person should be considered as part of the body'', says Namburajan.
The Air Passengers Association of India (APAI) last month took up the matter with DGCA. "We have told DGCA that wheelchair passengers are roughly handled,'' said APAI president D Sudhakara Reddy. He said Chennai airport increased the charge for ambulift from 3,000 to 5,000 recently.
Chennai airport has modern low-floor buses that can be tilted to roll in a wheelchair, but all airlines do not use these buses. An official said it is not possible to provide aerobridges for all airlines because traffic has gone up.